Apple Gets It Right on Privacy

Apple PingToday Apple released iTunes 10.1.  I opened up iTunes and the application told me there was a new version available.  I clicked through the install screen and the EULA (end user license agreement) popped up in my face.  Like most people, I usually just click through the EULA without actually reading it.  But today I read the top section.  Why?  Because it was in VERY LARGE LETTERS.  This is what the first part said:

IMPORTANT NOTE REGARDING PING.  We have changed the iTunes Store Terms and Conditions to provide you notice that if you have opted in to the Ping social network and use the new Ping Sidebar, iTunes will send information to Apple about the content you select in your iTunes library in order to provide you with Ping personal recommendations.  By using Ping, you agree to Apple’s use of such information.  If you do not want iTunes to send this information to Apple for Ping, you may hide the Ping Sidebar or opt out of Ping.

This is quite a contrast compared to Facebook which typically implements a feature and hides its somewhere in the privacy settings.  Of course Facebook is a SaaS application and iTunes is one I install locally, so one could argue that they use different mechanisms to show me the terms of my use.  When I update iTunes the new EULA is there for me to read (or not) and agree to (or not).  When a SaaS application implements a new feature, I typically don’t need to agree to their terms of service again.  Of course this is just mechanics.  Companies need to be very clear if there is the possibility that they will share my personal information.  If they want to be forthright in telling me, they can find a way to do it easily.

The key things I noticed in the EULA was that Apple is telling me upfront that if I opt in then some of my personal information is sent to Apple.  The purpose is to provide me with Ping personal recommendations.  If I don’t like that I can easily opt out or just hide the Ping Sidebar. 

How refreshing!  It seems as if Apple is giving me a choice and giving me a simple way to opt out if I choose.  Of course it does say that if I opt in that I agree to Apple’s use of this information.  I don’t see where it says what they will do with this information.  The old iTunes Terms & Conditions says that if you opt into Ping, Apple can use your information to show others your preferences, etc.  The iTunes EULA mentions that Apple may use technical information it gathers from my computer to facilitate provisioning of software updates and product support.  It also states that Apple may use this information as long as it is in a form that does not personally identify me.  Between the two it sounds like Apple will share my iTunes library preferences with those who opt into Ping. 

The notice about Ping is a step in the right direction to maintain privacy.  I am not sure why Apple didn’t do this when they originally launched Ping, but maybe they are learning from other’s mistakes.  I like the idea of a big notice telling me what this feature means and what it does for me.  Opting in seems to be my choice and opting out is very easy.

So please, just tell me the advantages of your service and give me an opportunity to say yes.  If I want in, this is what I get and this is what I give up.  That’s all I ask.  If I like it, I’ll sign up and use it.  If not, I won’t.  Apple is by no means perfect, but I think they did the right thing in this regard.  Hopefully this sets a good precedent for the rest of the world, but I will wait and see.

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